Legendary Bluesman Pinetop Perkins -
special to Nightmoves by Billy Bourbon
Galveston TX. - Galveston is a city rich with musical history. At the heart and soul of that history is the downtown area known as the Strand District. On Christmas night 2006, the patrons of Poor Michael's on the Strand were reminded of this musical legacy.
Billy Bourbon (www.billybourbon.com) was onstage, as he is every Monday night at Poor Michael's, with Tom Rodgers on bass, and Gary Lee on drums. Sitting in with the band was UTMB's own, Dr. Joseph B. Zwischenberger on harmonica - "Doc Z" to his musical friends. Then, lightning struck and a music legend walked into the bar.
Pinetop Perkins is best known as Muddy Waters' piano player. However his legacy is much wider and deeper. He, along with a handful of others, created an entire style which influenced, jazz, swing, boogie-woogie, honky-tonk country, blues, and rock-n-roll. Ask any piano player about the barrelhouse roll, and they'll talk about Pinetop Perkins (www.pinetopperkins.com).
Pinetop is now 93 years old, born in 1913 in Mississippi. He has played professionally since 1926, notably with Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, B.B. King, and Earl Hooker as well as the aforementioned Muddy Waters. H still tours as the front man of his own band.
Estranged from his family, he prefers to be out amongst his fans during the holidays. His manager had called ahead to the bar to see if there was a band and a piano. Indeed there was a band, but no piano. However, when Pinetop Perkins showed up at the bar and was introduced to the band, there was no way they were not going to jam with him. The ever resourceful Gary Lee ran out the door, crying over his shoulder, "I think I know where I can get a keyboard!"
His drummer missing, Billy Bourbon switched to acoustic, and Tom Rodgers and Doc Z joined in for a 25 minute set performed for an enthusiastic audience, gearing up with anticipation of seeing the legendary bluesman perform. It was Christmas Night, Poor Michael's had put out a food spread with turkey and all the fixins. A great feeling was in the room.
It might be stretch to call it a Christmas miracle, but being able to come up with a keyboard on short notice at ten pm, on Christmas Night is close. In walks Gary Lee, with a dusty, early 90s Roland synthesizer over his shoulder. Its' piano sound was what musicians would call "cheesy". Not the axe you want to give a living legend to play on, but it would have to do.
Now, lots of people of Pinetop Perkins' level could have been a prima-donna and refused to play. He chose however, to show how the pros do it. He made the best of what he had; performing a blistering 30 minute set, including "How Long", "Got My Mojo Working", and "Going Down to Mississippi". He made that old Roland sound damn good. The crowd singing the choruses back at him, and the band all with big grins on their faces, Pinetop Perkins laid down the authentic blues the way only a few can. For those lucky enough to be there it was the best Christmas ever!
Bio: Pinetop Perkins was born Joe Willie Perkins on July 13, 1913 in Belzoni, Mississippi. He began his career as a guitarist, but then injured the tendons in his left arm after being stabbed by a choirgirl in Helena, Arkansas.
Unable to play guitar, Perkins switched to the piano, and also switched from Robert Nighthawk's KFFA radio program to Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Time. He continued working with Nighthawk, however, accompanying him on 1950's "Jackson Town Gal".
In the 1950s, Perkins joined Earl Hooker and began touring, stopping to record "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" at Sam Phillips' studio in Memphis. ("They used to call me Pinetop," he recalled, "because I played that song.") He then relocated to Illinois and left music until Hooker convinced him to record again in 1968.
When Otis Spann left the Muddy Waters band, Perkins was chosen to replace him. He stayed for more than a decade, then left with several other musicians to form the Legendary Blues Band, recording through the late 1970s, 80s and early 90s. Perkins performed concerts on his own and did some touring in 2006 at the age of 93.
Perkins was driving his car in 2004 in LaPorte, Ind., when he was hit by a train. The car was totaled, but the 91-year-old driver was not seriously hurt.
Pinetop now lives in Austin, Texas. He usually performs a couple of songs every Tuesday night at the legendary Texas country dance hall, The Broken Spoke. (Billy Bourbon)